Sarah Palin’s Lack of Understanding of Health Care

Sarah Palin was an “expert” on foreign policy because she can see Russia from parts of Alaska. She is now an “expert” on health care policy–perhaps because she once saw a hospital or a sick person. Palin has an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal which is nothing more than a long string of empty talking points from the far right. If Republicans had any actual arguments against health care reform, the last thing they need is to have Sarah Palin once again show her lack of understanding of national issues.

Palin writes, “Common sense also tells us that a top-down, one-size-fits-all plan will not improve the workings of a nationwide health-care system that accounts for one-sixth of our economy.” Perhaps, but that is not what is being proposed at all, and from reading the op-ed it becomes clear that Palin, like most conservative critics of health care reform, hasn’t the slightest idea of what is actually being proposed.

Palin next shows her ignorance of the problems in the Medicare program:

In his Times op-ed, the president argues that the Democrats’ proposals “will finally bring skyrocketing health-care costs under control” by “cutting . . . waste and inefficiency in federal health programs like Medicare and Medicaid and in unwarranted subsidies to insurance companies . . . .”

First, ask yourself whether the government that brought us such “waste and inefficiency” and “unwarranted subsidies” in the first place can be believed when it says that this time it will get things right.

Palin apparently does not realize that the waste and unwarranted subsidies which Obama referred to come from George Bush’s Medicare Advantage plans. This is yet one more example of Republicans governing incompetently and then using this history to make their argument that government is always incompetent.

The problem is not “the government that brought us” this waste but the Republican Party which brought us this waste. Without these Republican policies Medicare is far more efficient than private insurance at providing health care. The Republican policy of paying subsidies to private insurance companies costs 13% to 19% more to care for Medicare patients through private companies than it costs to care for them thorough the government Medicare program.

Palin then proceeds to distort the meaning of the report of the Congressional Budget Office on potential cost savings, ignoring the fact that the methodology used by the CBO prevents them from even considering most of the future cost savings. Note that conservatives rely upon the CBO here, even if distorting the meaning of the report, while ignoring the CBO’s report that show that the public plan would not be a threat to private insurance companies or that tort reform would not significantly reduce health care costs. They certainly had no regard for the CBO when they warned about the costs of the Iraq war.

Palin distorts the idea of an Independet Medicare Advisory Council despite the fact that Republicans have supported this in the past. Palin calls this “an unelected, largely unaccountable group of experts charged with containing Medicare costs” but their recommendations would still be voted upon by Congress. In contrast, many medical decisions are now being made by unelected insurance company executives whose decisions are based upon maximizing their profits. The Mayo Clinic’s blog has a different view on this proposal than Palin:

Late yesterday, Mayo Clinic became aware of the concept of development of an Independent Medicare Advisory Council. We applaud the direction of this proposal. We view favorably the concept of an independent body that can move Medicare to a “value- based payment” model.  An independent Medicare advisory commission focused on defining value, measuring it, and finding ways to pay for value could have significant, positive impact on health care for the long term.  While we think the proposal’s timeline of 2014 is too long to wait to see value-based reforms, we look forward to working with the administration on refining and strengthening their new proposal. This, and other, bold concepts have the potential to “bend the cost curve” in U.S. health spending without compromising health.

Palin moves from her misinterpretation of the Independent Medicare Advisory Council to repeat her totally untrue scare stories about “death panels.” Some fact checking of Palin’s misinformation has previously been posted here, here, and here. Palin’s false statements about “death panels” originally came from provisions to fund voluntary counseling for patients regarding end of life care–an idea which Sarah Palin has supported in the past.

Palin provides more warnings:

“A new study for Watson Wyatt Worldwide by Steven Nyce and Syl Schieber concludes that if the government expands health-care coverage while health-care inflation continues…”

Yet it is Palin and the Republicans who object to any measures which would actually reduce health-care inflation such as the public option and the Independent Medicare Advisory Council.

Palin ends by providing meaningless solutions:

As the Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon and others have argued, such policies include giving all individuals the same tax benefits received by those who get coverage through their employers; providing Medicare recipients with vouchers that allow them to purchase their own coverage; reforming tort laws to potentially save billions each year in wasteful spending; and changing costly state regulations to allow people to buy insurance across state lines.

Providing more tax benefits or vouchers will not help when the private market has collapsed due to insurance companies finding it more profitable to deny coverage and drop the sick than to cover health care expenses. Tort reform would provide some minor savings, but I’ve already noted that the Congressional Budget Office, which Palin loves to cite when she can distort their reports to appear that they are supporting her arguments, has already contradicted Palin on this. Allowing people to buy insurance across state lines will not help when there is no longer a meaningful individual market. Besides, giving the insurance industry yet another way to evade regulation is the last thing we need.

Republicans such as Palin repeatedly respond to health care reform by distorting what is being proposed. They neither offer any serious proposals of their own or respond to what is actually being proposed. Their lack of response to the actual proposals suggest that they are unable to come up with any meaningful objections to what is actually being proposed.

Update: The White House has responded to Palin’s claims.

Update II: My response to Obama’s speech.

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I find the Republican view of ‘experts’ absolutely fascinating in its minutiae.
     
    On the one hand, everything the CBO says that they don’t like can be easily dismissed or ignored. Yet everything the CBO says that they believe can be used in support of their arguments carries the writ of gospel and should be considered because the CBO said it. Likewise, the idea of an expert panel advising Congress on Medicare expenditures is horrifying… yet we are to accept the views of the Cato Institute because they said it and they must be experts.
     
    All of this reflects on the painful and dangerous truth: the lack of understanding of or expertise in any facet of public policy by a shockingly large number of politicians in the Republican Party. Largely versed in only what their own experts tell them, but fearing contradiction by anyone whose credentials may be more valid than their own, they evince a disturbing love-hate relationship with expertise of any kind. Contradictory argument by experts is ‘technocratic’ or ‘elitist’, while their own experts have near scriptural authority because of their inability to think through many of the questions involved themselves… thus giving the other side the taint of blasphemy.
     
    This was one of the chief failings of both the Reagan and G.W. Bush administrations, and G.H.W. Bush’s actual understanding of many of the questions being discussed actually hurt him with his conservative constituency.
     
    Aaron Sorkin once broke it down beautifully, when one of his characters paraphrased a conservative candidates economic policy thusly:
     
    “Don’t worry. I’ll have Jews for the money stuff.”
     

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